Welcome to Summer Spotlight: a new feature from Health Professions Advising (HPA) where we explore the summer experiences of our students.
Vivian Yu ‘19 worked in a lab in Geneva, Switzerland in the summer after her sophomore year.
Vivian is an electrical engineering major and an aspiring physician with a strong interest in robotic medical devices. She appreciates that physicians can use scientific knowledge to meet with the people they are helping, and have the opportunity to get to know them on a one-on-one basis and improve their lives.
This past summer, when she was a rising junior, Vivan spent three months working in a lab that works on soft bioelectronic interfaces that can be used in humans for medical applications in beautiful Geneva, Switzerland. Her lab was affiliated with the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), a leading Swiss university and research institute, and was one among many groups in the same industrial complex. Vivan found out about the opportunity in Switzerland through a Princeton alumnae who had worked with her before in a lab on campus here at Princeton.
Vivian’s responsibilities varied depending on which phase of the project she was in, but she often spent her time coding, or doing research on new parts to order for the devices she was working on. She felt well prepared to work in the lab by her electrical engineering courses and premed science courses. While that prior education was helpful, Vivian stressed that much of her work in the lab was new to her and she learned most of it through hands-on practice with the support and feedback of her colleagues. On a typical day, Vivian would arrive before 9am and work until about 6:30 or 7pm. While the days were long, Vivian stressed the work she did was incredibly rewarding and the time went by quickly.
Vivian most appreciated working with and getting to know her team in the lab. All of the team members had different areas of expertise, some were materials scientists, others engineers. In addition, there was a lot of cultural diversity on the team as well, as her colleagues came from all over Europe (Italy, France, etc.). Vivian said this provided a constantly changing multidimensional work environment. The group also valued its down time: she enjoyed getting to know her colleagues and others in nearby labs during lunch and coffee breaks, and she and her colleagues would regularly take outings and explore Geneva together, including an escape room!
Vivian was quick to add that the sheer beauty of Geneva was also a big perk. Although she said the public transit was excellent, she would often walk to and from work each day just to be able to better experience the city and its beautiful landscape. In addition, she had weekends off and used that time to travel around Europe while she was there.
Overall, Vivian found her time in Geneva incredibly rewarding. Her advice for students looking for summer opportunities is to “keep your options open, see what’s around and see what really interests you and don’t be afraid to try things.” Lastly, Vivan stressed that summer didn’t just provide the opportunity to learn her new job, but also the opportunity to learn about herself and the world around her. Spending three months living in a different country with its own culture and language is a challenging but life changing experience.